I have always been a “planner” – I have everything all figured out way in advance, and even consider several contingencies so I can be sure I am always as prepared as possible. It’s part of my nature and it’s the only way I feel comfortable and can relax.
When it came to having a baby, there was PLENTY to plan, and having been witness to the parenthood of many family members and friends, I felt like I had a pretty good handle on what needed to be prepared, and what sorts of possibilities existed and had to be considered.
I read all kinds of things about having a baby, and among them, how beneficial breastfeeding is for both mother and child. For me, this was a no-brainer – of course I would breastfeed!
Then my baby was born, and the best day of my life became simultaneously one of the worst. My doctor found a cyst in my cervix during delivery. Five days later, I got the call – I had a rare, aggressive form of cancer. 29 years old, with a brand-new baby and a life-threatening disease.
I was visiting the oncologist ten days after the birth of my daughter. Aggressive disease calls for aggressive therapy, and by the time my daughter was three weeks old, I was beginning chemotherapy. As difficult as this roller-coaster ride was, one of the most devastating effects for me was the chemotherapy-induced ban on breastfeeding.
I felt my body had betrayed me by developing this horrible sickness, and then I felt disconnected and a bit disgusted by my body as it was being poisoned in order to save my life. Not being able to share that physical bond with my baby at a time when I was so afraid I would not live to see her grow up was absolutely shattering.
I expressed my concerns to my oncologist in a tearful appointment. Breastfeeding, something even my planner-mind took for granted as a given, was now an area of battle I had never anticipated. Because I was so adamant, my doctor worked with me so that I could pump several times each day, dumping the hard-earned milk down the sink each time (boy, that was painful!). I did this for 6 weeks straight so that, when I had a reprieve from chemotherapy in order to have and recover from surgery, I was able to resume breastfeeding my daughter.
I will never forget that first feeding after all those weeks of pumping-and-dumping. It was so joyous and heart-wrenching. I cried nearly the entire time. Even today thinking back, I can remember that moment so clearly, especially how it felt to hold my child and feed her from my no-longer-poisonous body.
It may seem an extreme example, but as I learned so well, no one really knows what life will bring and how to plan for it. Sometimes we face the unexpected and can only react in the moment. I am so thankful I made breastfeeding a priority. The benefits extended far past those regularly touted by experts. I was able to connect with my baby and have emotional healing throughout a traumatic ordeal. It was worth every minute of the struggle.